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Regional transportation officials get briefed on Western Bypass
MPO meeting, July 25, 2012
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Albemarle County Supervisor Duane Snow, Charlottesville Mayor Satyendra Huja, and Albemarle Planning Commissioner Mac Lafferty
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by Sean Tubbs | Thursday, July 26, 2012 at 12:01 a.m.

The administrator of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Culpeper District updated the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s policy board Wednesday on the status of the Western Bypass of U.S. 29

James Utterback told the MPO an environmental assessment required by the Federal Highway Administration will not be completed until December, two months after initially planned. 
 
“A draft environmental assessment should be ready for public review in August,” Utterback said. “We [will] go through the citizen information meeting in September, make changes to revise the EA and get it back to the Federal Highway Administration. That will take some time.” 
 
Utterback also said VDOT signed a $136 million contract Tuesday with the team of Skanska-Branch team to design and build the 6.2-mile, four-lane highway. 
 
“Since we knew before we awarded the contract that we were going to have a little bit of a delay in getting through the environmental reevaluation, we went ahead and worked with Skanska to see if there was an opportunity to adjust some of the dates before we finalized the contract,” Utterback said. 
 
If the FHWA determines further environmental scrutiny is not required, Skanska-Branch will be given notice to proceed with final design. When they have completed that work, a design public hearing will be held. 
 
“The public hearing will certainly happen after the environmental review is complete,” Utterback said. 
 
The contract’s execution means that Skanska-Branch can begin work on a traffic study that must be conducted before the final design can be performed. That work will also inform an “interchange justification report” for the two termini that must be approved by the FHWA. 
 
However, Skanska-Branch cannot begin right-of-way negotiations until the federal review process had concluded. 
 
Utterback told Charlottesville Tomorrow in an interview after the meeting that initial construction will begin in November 2013 if the FHWA determines the bypass can move forward. 
 
The MPO also amended a list of all active road and transit projects known as the “transportation improvement program” in order to reflect recent allocations by the Commonwealth Transportation Board
 
In the past year, the CTB has funded the bypass, Hillsdale Drive Extended, the replacement of the Belmont Bridge, and improvements to the interchange of U.S. 29 and U.S. 250.
 
However, Charlottesville officials on the MPO requested that the TIP not be updated to reflect additional funding for the “Best Buy ramp” out of a concern the city may have to invest more in the $7.7 million project. The project originally was to cost $4.2 million, but VDOT’s design calls for large retaining walls.
 
“That accounts for most of the increase in cost,” said Stephen Williams, the executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. The TJPDC coordinates the MPO. 
 
Edens, the developer of the Shops at Stonefield in Albemarle County, had initially stated they would pay $1 million towards the Best Buy project in the city as part of a proffer connected to the 2003 rezoning that allowed for the development. 
 
“There was an option for the developer with regard to that contribution and the way it worked out, the developer chose to take the option which was to make improvements to the northbound side of U.S. 29, which are going to move forward,” Williams said. 
 
Under the way the TIP amendment was written, the city was to have provided an additional $1 million as a match. That concerned City Councilor Kristin Szakos, the chair of the MPO. 
 
“The city was not supposed to be putting money into this project because our match was being covered by this proffer, but when that proffer went away, it was my understanding the city was not going to have to cover that,” Szakos said.
 
Jeanette Janiczek, the city’s urban construction initiatives manager, said the $1 million was to have been covered by revenue-sharing money from VDOT. However, she said city staff has asked VDOT to have that removed. 
 
Utterback said VDOT and city staff would meet on Aug.8 to discuss the project.
 
Williams said construction is not expected until 2015 so the TIP would need to be amended by then. 
 
Williams also asked VDOT to provide more information about how the bypass design would take the extension of Berkmar Drive Extended into account. Local approval of the bypass was contingent on ensuring the two could co-exist. 
 
“I know we at the MPO and staff have been talking about how that Berkmar Extension might work,” Williams said. 
 
Utterback said the topic will be discussed when VDOT officials hold their first meeting with Skanska-Branch officials. 
 
“We’re a couple weeks away from meeting with Skanska and figuring out how much time they need to do studies,” Utterback said. “There’s been no discussion yet [on Berkmar].” 
 
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